Editor’s note: This is the third in a three-part series on employer services provided by OhioMeansJobs Champaign County to help local businesses retain their workforce through training that prepares valued employees for new skills, technology and career advancement. Other employer services featured in this series include Incumbent Worker Training and On-the-Job Training.
When recruiting for jobs that require specialized skills, employers compete for a limited pool of qualified candidates. Ohio’s Registered Apprenticeship program, available locally through OhioMeansJobs Champaign County (OMJCC), helps employers overcome this challenge and build their skilled workforce from within.
“It’s probably the best way to supply employers a pipeline of reliable, skilled employees,” says Andrea Mitchell, business services representative of OMJCC.
Through the Registered Apprenticeship program employers provide proven, valued employees the opportunity to learn new skills through structured on-the-job training that meets industry standards, aligned with technical instruction from an approved school – all while getting paid. “Apprentices earn a livable wage as they learn,” Mitchell says.
The Rittal North America facility in Urbana currently has three employees enrolled in the apprenticeship program, with a fourth possibly beginning in early 2021, says Dan Yohey, quality engineer and manager of apprenticeships at Rittal.
Rittal has one industrial engineering apprentice, David Vanderveen, an assembler with the company for six years, and two maintenance technician apprentices, Billy Warren and Malik Tanksley, who have been at Rittal for less than two years.
Vanderveen started his apprenticeship in late February 2020, and Warren and Tanksley, in late May 2020. All three are enrolled in 8,000-hour/four-year programs at Clark State Community College, with which Rittal has previously partnered with for internships. The length of apprenticeships varies by industry and occupation.
The apprentices are completing on-the-job training under the supervision of mentors, who are among 10 Rittal engineers, managers and senior technicians who completed mentorship training developed for Rittal by Clark State.
The Registered Apprenticeship program is employer-driven. This means, says Mitchell, that employers:
Design the training to meet their unique operational needs
Choose the educational provider and curriculum to align with the on-the-job training and job requirements
Select apprentices, from within their existing workforce, who have proven themselves reliable, with the drive and talent to take on new challenges
“We were able to customize this program to actually create better engineers,” Nick Frost, manufacturing engineering manager and supervisor of Rittal’s apprenticeship mentors, says. Once they complete the program, he adds, the apprentices will be “far more rounded and specialized in what Rittal needs…. The idea is that we will make better engineers than what we are today.”
After developing its apprenticeship training program, in partnership with Clark State and OMJCC, Rittal took the plan to the Greater Ohio Workforce Development Board, Inc. (GOWBI) for approval and certification. As the apprenticeship sponsor, GOWBI conducts audits and other administrative services on behalf of Rittal.
In addition to benefitting the company and apprentices, Yohey says, “The apprenticeship program sends a message to the rest of the workforce in the plant that, based on the success of these individuals, that we’re walking the walk and offering career advancement opportunities at Rittal—not just longevity. It boosts morale.”
The apprenticeships also benefit the mentors, Frost says. Serving as mentors “is their next progression on that ladder of moving up…. You invest the time and money to send them through the training, and it says, ‘We trust you, and you’re on your way up.’”
Apprenticeships increase employee retention rates, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. And they reduce the time invested in recruiting skilled employees – in competition with other employers – and orienting them to the culture, products and processes of a new workplace.
“It’s a lot easier to develop your skilled workforce rather than competing with other companies and bringing them in from the outside,” Yohey said. “It’s pretty competitive right now. The need for technicians and engineers, it’s pretty cutthroat.”
Frost adds, “When we onboard a new engineer, we look at from six to 12 weeks before they bring any value, just because they’re trying to learn what we do. When we bring up somebody from in the company, the learning curve is so much less, and we can get right to the technical aspects of their training. They’re instantly bringing some value.”
To learn more about the Registered Apprenticeship program, call OhioMeansJobs Champaign County at 937-484-1581. OMJCC is available to provide employers presentations – onsite or virtually – about the Registered Apprenticeship program and other OMJCC workforce training services.